Murder, blackmail, intrigue and mistrust all make for an enthralling night at the theatre and the Theatre Royal Windsor's production of 'The Small Hours' keeps you guessing from start to finish.
Released as part of the Theatre Royal's mystery season, plot twists, red herrings and suspenseful cliff-hangers abound in this exciting adaptation of Francis Durbridge's 'The Small Hours'.
As the curtain lifts, a spotlight beams down on Carl Houston (Simon Dutton) and Ronnie Sheldon (Dean Gaffney) on a long-distance flight from Sydney to London. Appropriate background noise creates a powerful illusion of a plane mid-flight. Whilst they chat, the captain's frightened voice booms over the tanoy, informing his passengers that they are being hijacked. Suddenly a masked man carrying a rifle reveals himself and the stage goes dark to deafening screams and gunshots. Being a nervous flier, this was enough to set my pulse racing.
Containing all of Durbridge's iconic plot twists, the tension of 'The Small Hours' never falters as each scene brings with it a new dramatic cliff-hanger, adding more twists to the tale. Simon Dutton holds up the play as the put-upon Chichester hotelier, trying desperately to free himself from the dangerous game of intrigue he has unwittingly found himself in the middle of. His frustration, bewilderment and fear allows the audience to easily emphasise with the ordinary man caught in the midst of an extraordinary situation.
Carol Royle provides good support with her controlled performance as Carl Houston's equally flustered wife, Vanessa, thankfully avoiding the temptation to over-act in her role.
Ex-Eastenders actor Dean Gaffney impresses as the likeable and sympathetic Ronnie Sheldon. Although, being a Francis Durbridge play, his performance will still leave you wondering if his trembling nervousness is genuine or part of a bigger act?
Graham Cole makes the most of his limited stage-time, proudly dropping more and more plot twists into the complex narrative. All he's missing is a long pipe and a deerstalker!
Meanwhile, Mark Curry excels as the scheming and sleazy Bernard whilst Georgina Leonidas is a refreshing antidote as Bernard's sweet-natured wife.
There are, admittedly, several loose ends left unresolved at the play's conclusion that leave those unfamiliar with the story scratching their heads in confusion. However, the play provides all the entertainment a good thriller should and will have you questioning, what is the secret of the koala bear?
The Small Hours runs at Theatre Royal Windsor until Saturday, January 30. Visit www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk